Raphael and his drawings: a conversation with Angelamaria Aceto

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

What lies behind Raphael’s drawings and sketches?

To find out, read our interview with expert Angelamaria Aceto (Ashmolean Museum) who will be speaking at the BSR on the 5th of March. Her lecture entitled ‘The archaeology of Raphael’s drawings: uncovering new sketches and methodologies’ will coincide with the opening of the major exhibition ‘Raffaello’at the Scuderie del Quirinale.

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Can you tell us about your contribution to the forthcoming exhibition ‘Raffaello’ at  Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome?

I co-authored an essay with Prof. Di Teodoro on Raphael’s architectural drawings – an aspect that is in need of a critical re-assessment.  It is an incredibly difficult field because of the lack of architectural drawings that have come down to us and yet we recognise Raphael as one of the most influential architects in Western history. It is a slight paradox, but an intriguing one for an art historian! We examined how the drawings attributed to him are made, their ‘stratigraphy’ (I love the concept borrowed from geology), but we also considered the traces of architecture in his figural drawings and this has shown how careful scrutiny can enrich art historical discourse. It is a work in progress.

 What is the most revealing aspect of Raphael’s drawings?

His restless inventiveness, nurtured by a profound visual culture, which still surprises us today as we look beneath the surface of his drawings.

Among the many themes, the Scuderie exhibition wonderfully illustrates the ambitious and talented artist responding with incredible ease to the stimuli that surrounded him through the act of drawing, whether it was the art of senior masters, nature, or indeed classical antiquity. Drawing was (and still is) an essential cognitive tool through which artists learnt, experimented and fixed ideas, but it has layers, like a painting. This is something drawing scholarship has increasingly acknowledged, but not enough in my opinion. Such a shift is certainly much needed in Raphael studies. The lecture will take you through some cases-studies, or ‘reading exercises’ so to speak, and show you what a focus on the materiality of his drawings can do.

What does Raphael say to contemporary audiences?

Everyone, regardless of their knowledge of the artist and his historical context, will be captured by the beauty of the objects he executed or perhaps just designed, and by his versatility. His genius manifested itself beyond painting and architecture.

Above all, Raphael remains one the greatest storytellers of all the time. Many of his narrative paintings reflect concerns of the time, and may not feel ‘modern’ to us today. Yet, his technical virtuosity, paired with his visual intelligence, are such that our eyes are drawn to these incredible orchestrations. In every story, whether unfolding in large-scale frescos, in a Sacred Family, in portraits, or in a swift sketch realised with minimal marks of the pen, Raphael succeeded in striking the balance between rhetoric and reality. It is an art imbued with human emotions, and as such it manages to transcend the boundaries of time and space.

The lecture is a collaboration with Scuderie del Quirinale

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.